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Budget Surplus or Money Shuffle

September 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s economy is booming, that means the state will have more money to spend next year, but economic watch dogs aren’t so optimistic.

Unemployment is down, job growth is above the national average and the population is growing, but the best news as far as lawmakers are concerned is that the state will have $223 million extra to spend next year.

“So things are really moving in the right direction. Florida’s on a roll,” said Senator Rob Bradley.

The projected surplus is a huge increase over a $1.1 billion budget shortfall that had been predicted last year, but Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro says in order for the surplus to exist, $392 million has to come out of trust funds designated to fund programs like affordable housing.

“When you have money that you set aside for a mortgage and you say no I don’t want that, I’m going to use that money to buy beer, to buy wine, to buy party supplies. You’re not meeting your mortgage obligation,” said Calabro.

Lawmakers have swept trust funds for years and their attitude  doesn’t seem to be changing.

“Trust funds are revenues,” Senator Bradley told reporters during the Joint Legislative Budget Commission meeting last Friday.

Some like Karen Woodall with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy accept that the state will have more money, but don’t believe it’s enough to cover unmet needs in areas like education, affordable housing and healthcare.

“44 to 45% of households in Florida are struggling to make ends meet. So good news that there’s more revenue than they thought they’d have; incorrect to call it a surplus and think that it should be plowed back in to meeting needs,” said Woodall.

Historically, lawmakers have used surpluses to justify tax cuts.

There are plenty of uncertainties that could have major impacts on revenue projections  including three constitutional amendments on the November ballot dealing with taxes and the possibility of Democrats taking the House or Senate, or even the Governor’s Mansion.

Despite the surplus projected for next year, a budget shortfall of $48 million is projected for the following year.

Three years from now the state could see a short fall of nearly half a billion dollars.

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